Primer attempt: 25 people, The Repetition: 17 people, Third Time’s a Charm: 29 people. With 183 afiliados the future of Cuajiniquil’s A.D.I. was at best ‘questionable’ but there’s always a silver lining and, although difficult to decipher at times, the situation provided the perfect opportunity for a PCV. One of the major goals of the RCD program is Organizational Development but little emphasis is placed on its importance. This goal stems from the fact that Rural Development Associations don’t function efficiently, effectively, or with transparency and, in turn, this leads to stagnation in poor communities, the status quo of mismanagement becomes sacrosanct. We as PCV’s, with a handful of Spanish, fight to espouse the value of organization, planning, and information sharing; even if it is only with one fist.
The answers to our problem was obvious, a change needed to be made and it needed to be made fast. Without the Asamblea the A.D.I. can’t work (literally and figuratively) and, with a demanding Peace Core Volunteer, doctoring the forms wouldn’t function. 183 personal invitations were made and we set out on foot to deliver every single invite to every single afiliado. Often, I wonder what my community will say once I’m gone and now I can at least be sure that, among all the chismes, I’ll be remember for helping to orchestrate the largest Asamblea in the history of Cuajiniquil, 111 at the Segunda Convocatoria and the final, unofficial, count leveling out around 125 people.
The need to improve the organizational practices of the A.D.I. didn’t stem from 3 failed Asambleas but rather from another focus of PC Tico, Project Design and Management. August ’08 provided the perfect opportunity for what is considered, in the opinion of many, Peace Corps success. Maureen Ballesteros, the diputada for the region of Guanacaste, visited the community and, in a meeting with the Association, granted 5 millones for a project we had been discussing. The money had originally been earmarked for a geological study of the community’s new aqueduct system but through efficient mismanagement scientists weren’t contacted, agreements weren’t drawn up and we were on the brink of losing the money- auspicious beginnings.
The project continued in the haphazard manner that had come to typify the A.D.I. Cuajil: absence of project development meetings, suppression of information, lack of communication, and a time table that can only be described in Spanish- elástico. The irony of the situation was that we were trying to build an Information Center, an office for the A.D.I. that would help to disseminate information about the Development Association while also providing communication between the community and the Junta Directiva. Still, faced with these numerous challenges, we managed to turn the project in by the November 14 deadline, within the timeframe to receive the donation from the diputada and hopefully receive additional support from DINADECO.
There’s Bad News and then there’s Heartbreak. I’ve often said the Peace Corps is a practice in small successes and devastating failures and here was another example. December ’08, “we’re sorry but your project was rejected by the legal department in San José”. Apparently, the construction of an Information Center wasn’t included in the Plan de Trabajo of the A.D.I. Cuajil and therefore DINADECO, legally, couldn’t provide the funding- the bad news. The heartbreak, “the project would have been approved had it appeared in the Plan de Trabajo” (DINADECO representative). The solution: Convocar la Asamblea, have the project approved by the community, and fax the new Plan de Trabajo to San José. We now come full circle, “How do we approve a new Plan de Trabajo when we tried 3 times and couldn’t get 25% of the afiliados to attend the Asamblea?”.
The unfortunate reality was that if I wanted the project approved by the community and if I wanted to guarantee that this didn’t happen again I was going to have to ‘demand’ that we, the A.D.I., work better and work smarter. Fortunately, over the past 8 months a handful of Spanish had turned into 2 handfuls and I was ready to challenge a group of rough and ready fisherman who didn’t like taking criticism from a 25 year old kid. We held a meeting and after some initial resistance we started to make some progress, we decided on a few small changes in the operations of the Junta, we talked about the community’s criticisms, and we decided to work differently in the future- basically, we started communicating. In the end a small change had taken place, nothing major but a step in a different direction and perhaps a better direction. The fourth attempt at the Asamblea turned out to be a success and we’re now waiting, once again, for project approval (small success).
The challenge with the goal of Organization Development is that it’s not received openly by community groups; no one likes to be told that they should change. Additionally, greater organization, providing more information, and attempting to work efficiently signals more responsibility and that’s a scary thought- for both PCV’s and community members. But without these types of changes communities don’t develop, people don’t develop, and volunteers become frustrated and disillusioned. Teaching Organizational Development is a hard job, it’s awkward, at times it’s scary, there’s no rubric for success, and the value of change often needs to be demonstrated rather than taught; but without this component sustainability is almost impossible. It’s easy to become tired and frustrated in the process, to give up and head to the beach for the weekends or to be overwhelmed by resistance to change, but you have to demonstrate, graciously, that there is a better way to work. And when you’re tired remember… No se afloje el rabo aunque le caga la mano. A la orden. Gte.